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Former Calgary cop to head group studying 2026 Olympic bid

Former Calgary police chief and politician Rick Hanson is back in the public eye as the head of the city's exploration committee studying a possible bid for the 2026 Winter Olympics.

Mr. Hanson resigned as Calgary's top cop in 2015 for an unsuccessful run as a Progressive Conservative in the Alberta election later that year.

Calgary was the host city of the 1988 Winter Olympics. After hearing a presentation from the Calgary Sport Tourism Authority, city council voted in June to spend up to $5-million studying ways and means of getting the Games again.

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The clock is ticking as Calgary must indicate to the International Olympic Committee their intent to bid for 2026 by September, 2017. The winning bid will be announced in 2019.

"Our goal is to collect all the best information in collaboration with the community to see if it makes sense to bid on the 2026 Games," Mr. Hanson said Monday at city hall. "I have to be clear on this: our work does not pre-suppose an outcome. Our success as a committee is not whether we move forward with a bid or not. It will be whether council has enough good quality information to make an informed decision that will benefit Calgarians."

Hanson leads 17 volunteers tasked with analyzing costs – including how much money will be needed from federal, provincial and municipal governments – and how to maximize the existing 1988 venues. They'll provide city council with an interim report in January and a final report in July.

In its pitch to council, the CSTA offered up a price tag of $5.3-billion to host the 2026 Winter Games, which would be less than the $7.7-billion of the 2010 Winter Games in Vancouver and Whistler, B.C.

Alberta Premier Rachel Notley said she'll wait to see what funding proposals the committee comes up with and review them.

The province has earmarked a lot of money to improve Alberta's infrastructure, but the need is already greater than the money available, Ms. Notley added.

"It is a question of determining which get priority, but the only way to do that is to look at everything that comes before you, so we will do that when the time is appropriate," she said.

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Olympic athletes Catriona Le May Doan and Beckie Scott are on Calgary's exploration committee as is former member of Parliament Wilton Littlechild.

A representative of Calgary Sport and Entertainment, owner of the NHL's Flames and CFL's Stampeders, is not on the committee, although the daughter of Flames co-owner Clayton Riddell is.

The Flames want a new arena and football stadium whether Calgary bids for a Winter Games or not.

But the proposed CalgaryNext project – which includes those components and a field house – is inevitably linked to a potential Olympic bid.

Calgary Flames president Ken King says he didn't feel snubbed.

"Rick Hanson is a long-time friend and associate and I have no concerns about us not being on the committee," Mr. King said. "I've already got a call from somebody on the committee. I assume it has something to do in their interest in what we think. I have no doubt they'll be consulting with us."

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The city and the Flames disagree on the bill of CalgaryNext. The city says it's $1.8-billion when the price of cleaning up polluted land on the proposed site is included.

Mr. King has said that's overshooting by half a billion. The Flames have offered $200-million of their money to the project as well as a $250-million loan to be repaid through a ticket surcharge.

"There isn't anybody on the bid exploration committee who is directly tied to any particular potential facility," Calgary Mayor Naheed Nenshi said. "That's very much on purpose. We have to create a master hosting plan that may or may not include different facilities. To have someone pitching for their facility on that committee doesn't really make sense."

Sue Riddell Rose was appointed to the committee because of her expertise in the oil and gas industry, Mr. Nenshi added.

"There was a real desire to have a senior leader from the energy sector on this who also is deeply committed to the community as a whole," he stated.

Calgary's maintenance of its 1988 legacy venues and proximity to mountains keeps the city in conversations about future Winter Games bids.

Doping, corruption scandals, huge security costs and the bloated price tag of the 2014 Sochi Games reported to be over $50-billion have dampened appetites to bid for Olympic Games.

The IOC adopted a series of reforms called Agenda 2020 to attract host cities. The new "reduce, reuse, recycle" philosophy is friendly to a Calgary bid.

Agenda 2020 is undergoing its first test as Rome, Paris, Budapest and Los Angeles are finalists for the 2024 Summer Games. The host city will be announced next year.

Nenshi spent some of his vacation at the Summer Games in Rio, where he says he spoke to an IOC member "who is very much in charge of candidature cities at the IOC" about a Calgary bid "and how that might be viewed by the IOC," he said.

"The message we've been getting is . . . if you have to build a ton of infrastructure, that will actually count against you whereas in the past 'look, we're building shiny new infrastructure' would have been something in your favour," the mayor continued.

"We've very well-positioned that way, but as I say over and over again, it has to be based on evidence. I remain, though an Olympic fan, a bit of a skeptic on whether this thing really works. The numbers have to be bullet-proof."

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